Sempre caught my attention several days before it opened in late May. Its prominent position on trendy Bolshaya Dmitrovka, in the space previously occupied by the Podium fashion store, makes it difficult to miss. It might also have been something to do with the vast swathe of foliage hanging from the ceiling – there aren’t many restaurants in town that look like a botanical garden from the outside.
And as you will find out if you go, Sempre is no ordinary restaurant. It is the first establishment of its kind launched by Belgian entrepreneur Gust Sempre. His company Sempre Life specializes in international interior design projects that make use of a vast range of household goods manufactured by the company. The focus is on loose, uneven forms and traditional natural materials: glass, metal, wood, stone. Think of it as a kind of up-and-coming, pagan Ikea.
In order to familiarize people with its atmosphere and philosophy, Sempre has now decided to open a restaurant in Moscow, which, as one of the staff explained, is a test run before the company opens new locations in other cities around the world. This, you see, is because the cutthroat world of Moscow’s dining scene is seen as the perfect acid test for a restaurant. Still with me?
Before we go any further, lets’ get something out of the way: Sempre is that dreaded of beasts, the “concept restaurant.” But before your prejudices take over, allow me to reassure you: I also came loaded with apprehensions, most of which were happily discarded at the door.
Sempre is all about sharing, letting go of your inhibitions and the conditioning that dictates how we normally behave in restaurants. The lighting is low and most of the seating is around long tables made from polished stone or wood. This, along with Sempre’s policy of not accepting bookings for groups of fewer than five, creates an informal, friendly atmosphere in which table-sharing – and conversations with strangers – come naturally.